Sex Addiction Group

Joshua Nichols

Marriage Counselor, Family Counselor, Sex Addictions Therapist

6 Ways Fathers Can Emotionally Connect with Their Children

Sat, 11/10/2012 - 14:29 -- josh

"A father may turn his back on his child, brothers and sisters may become inveterate enemies, husbands may desert their wives, wives their husbands. But a mother's love endures through all."  ~ Washington Irving

This quote by Washington Irving doesn't paint a very nice picture in relation to fathers.  Although I don't think this can be applied to all families and all fathers, it definately rings true for a lot of peopIe in this world.  It is no secret that our nation suffers from a fatherhood crisis.  The National Fatherhood Initiative, referencing the US Census Bureau, reports that 1 out of 3 kids live in a biological father-absent home.  

As a marital and family therapist, it is not uncommon for me to facilitate father-absent family therapy.  Sometimes fathers are not in the picture, and other times they simply refuse to join in on the counseling experience.  Many of you fathers reading this might be thinking, “This doesn’t apply to me.  I haven’t left my family.”  Well, "being there" doesn’t only mean physical presence, it also means emotional presence; and emotional presence is often easier said than done.

Below are 6 tips that I believe can be extremely helpful for fathers as we work to be an emotional presence for our children.

Believe you have something to offer (on an emotional level). I believe this to be the main stumbling block for fathers today.  Many fathers believe that all they are good for is “bringing home the bacon” and nothing else.  Being a provider is definitely something to be admired, but it usually is NOT what is most desired by our children.  Children want strong relationships with their dads.  They want to feel close; they want to feel loved; they want to feel wanted.  For different reasons, many fathers don’t feel they can adequately be an emotional provider to their children.  In turn, they distant themselves, leaving the emotional providing up to the mothers.  Fathers! You were created emotional beings; therefore, it is within your capabilities to connect with your children on an emotional level.  The first step is not only believing that you can do this, but also believing your emotional presence is a priceless commodity.

Allow yourself to be weakIn other words, don’t be such a tough guy!  I believe it is important for fathers to exhibit masculinity from time-to-time; but, it is also important to know and understand when the situation calls for us to be weak and vulnerable.  Paul states in 2 Corinthians 12:10b, “When I am weak, then I am strong.”  Here are a few examples of appropriately becoming weak:

·         Allow yourself to be sad in the presence of your children. Yes, most kids will admit that is hard to see their parents, especially their fathers, sad.  But just because it is unpleasant doesn’t mean it isn’t beneficial to them.  When children see their fathers express this type of emotion, it not only sends the message that you do not fear this type of emotion, but it also makes room for a deeper emotional connection.

·         Apologize to your children.  A sincere, heartfelt apology is one way to validate your children’s hurt.   Too often parents want to defend their behavior or “help their child understand” why they did what they did, but this often doesn’t take away the pain.  When we hurt someone despite who it is or how unintentional it was, we should apologize.  Don’t underestimate the healing power of an apology.

·         Love your children no matter what.  When your children were born, all they had to do to earn your love was to simply exist.  That should NOT change.  Thus, when you are upset with them or disappointed in them, make sure they understand that although you are not happy with their decision or behavior, this does not affect the reality that you are proud to have them as your child.  Disappointment and pride can coexist.  I know this because I am a Cubs fan! If you’ve ever known a Cubs fan, then you know that disappointment seems to come with the territory; yet, it is blatantly obvious how proud they are to be a Cubbie.

Delight in your children Dads, when you see your kids after a long day's work, SMILE! I understand that life gets difficult for various reasons.  Children also can become very challenging, especially as they approach adolescence.  They seem to know more than you; they aren’t very considerate; their friends become more important than you.  In other words, they no longer are the sweet adorable 4 year olds who thought you hung the moon.  However, when you wake up in the morning or when you come home from work, despite what happened yesterday, remind yourself to express delight when you see them.  In my counseling practice, some of the saddest words I hear come from the lips of children and adolescents are “I don’t think mom/dad likes me very much.”  If you do feel this way, then please consider allowing a professional counselor help you with life and/or family restructuring to free you up to enjoy your children again.

Keep your promises. In other words, “Don’t let your mouth write a check your butt can’t cash!” One of the most common complaints I hear from children concerning their dads is that they don’t live up to their word.  Dad’s, ask yourself, What kind of legacy do I want to leave with my children?  Do I want to be the dad they couldn’t count on? Or, do I want be someone where my “yes” meant “yes” and my “no” meant “no” (cfMt. 5:37), no questions asked?

Wrestle with your boysResearch supports the notion that roughhousing is important for the development of boys.  Here are a couple of good articles in support of horseplay - "The Importance of Roughhousing with Your Kids" and "Roughhousing with Dad, Crucial for Development".  What I like the most about roughhousing is that it is a relationship building play activity.  It involves physical and emotional interaction, mastery and defeat, strength and submission, joy, laughter, and sometimes tears.  It is just an all-around good activity for fathers and sons to participate in.  Fathers, when you do this, remember to exercise caution and good judgment.  You are the one that gauges how “rough” things actually get.  Bruises or blood do NOT have to be drawn in order to bond with your child on the wrestling mat.

Date your daughters.  Now, I am not saying you can’t wrestle with your daughters.  But, you also need to show your vulnerability and sensitivity to your daughters.  This doesn’t always mean going to dinner and a movie.  You can do this by engaging with them in their play.  Allow them to paint your nails and do your makeup. Be the best Ken you can be as you play Barbies.  In addition to their father’s masculinity, daughters need to see from their dads that men can be gentle and sensitive.  I love the old song by Holly Dunn called “Daddy’s Hands.”  She says, “Daddy’s hands were soft and kind when I was crying. Daddy’s hands were hard as steel when I'd done wrong. Daddy’s hands weren’t always gentle, but I come to understand.  There was always love in Daddy’s hands.”

Fathers! It is time we stop being absent and start recognizing that our presence and interaction with our children is crucial for their growth and development on all levels.  I know it is not easy, but often the most meaningful endeavors come with challenges.  My question to you is: Are you up for the task?



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